|Jonathan Rhys Meyers||Chris Wilson|
|Matthew Goode||Tom Hewett|
|Directed by||Woody Allen|
A tennis ball, struck with tremendous force, smacks against the tape that is stretched tightly along the top of the net. It ricochets straight up, drops back onto the net, trembles a moment, and then falls, one way or the other. Which side of the net it falls on may be the product of inexorable laws of physics, but in practical terms, it?s pure luck ; and the outcome of a match can hinge on it. ?I?d rather be lucky than good,? muses Chris Wilson (Jonathan Rhys Meyers) in a voice-over that opens Woody Allen?s startling new thriller. Chris is a tennis pro, retired from the ATP circuit where he used to compete on occasionally even terms with the likes of Tim Henman and Andre Agassi, on days when he was both very good and very lucky. Now he has taken a teaching job at a posh London tennis club.
?Luck is the residue of design,? the baseball executive Branch Rickey once observed, and Chris works hard to cultivate his own opportunities. A poor kid from Ireland, he has used tennis as his passport to greener pastures, and he employs his spare time in polishing himself with serious reading and serious music. He is unfailingly courteous and deferential to his betters, and he soon strikes up a friendship with one of his pupils, the silver-spooned Tom Hewett (Matthew Goode.) Tom has a pretty sister, Chloe (Emily Mortimer), who falls for the handsome tennis pro like a ton of gold bullion. Coltish and slightly gawky, she is accustomed to getting what she wants. She beds Chris, and then arranges for her father (Brian Cox) to buy him for her. ?Couldn?t you give him a job in one of your companies, Daddy ?? And so, with a seemly show of reluctance, Chris steps onto the corporate elevator, the one marked ?Express.?
Tom also has a fianc?e, Nola (Scarlett Johansson.) She?s an aspiring American actress, and she?s trouble. With her pouty lips, smoldering eyes, and a figure to rival the figures in Chloe?s bank account, she lights up Chris?s radar like a WMD. ?Did anybody ever tell you you play a very aggressive game ?? she purrs as Chris teaches her the finer points of ping pong from close range. And of herself, she remarks ?Men always seem to wonder?they think I?d be very special.? And is she ? ?Nobody?s ever asked for their money back.? For Chris, in the phrase of Jean Eustache?s great 1973 film, Chloe and Nola are the mother and the whore. The one takes care of him, the other drives him crazy with lust. Chloe is desperate to conceive, and their sex life becomes a chart of calendars and thermometers. Nola has fertility written all over her. Nola wants Chris to leave Chloe. In Nola, Chris has somebody who not only excites him sexually, but somebody he can be himself with, somebody from his own background. But that background is what he?s desperate to leave behind. In Chloe and her wealthy family, Chris has found the nirvana of his poor Irish boyhood dreams.
Something has got to happen. Something does. In the past, when he?s wanted a break from comedy and his neurotic persona, we?ve seen Woody Allen as Fellini (Stardust Memories, 1980) or Woody Allen as Bergman (Interiors, 1978.) Here he tries on the Hitchcock mantle, and it?s a stunning fit. In accomplishing this switch, Allen has traded in two of his stylistic hallmarks : jazz for opera, and Manhattan for London (the script was written to be shot in the Hamptons, but financing dictated the change in venue, and artistically it turned out to be a happy choice.) The Remi Adefarasin cinematography breathes Hitchcock at every pore, and the opera-laden soundtrack raises the hairs on your neck at key moments.
Allen?s always been great at directing actors, and Rhys Meyers does a terrific job at portraying the upwardly mobile, callously servile Chris. As Tom, Goode perfectly hits the notes of affable, unselfconscious privilege, and Mortimer does equally well as the ingratiating Chloe. Top marks go to Johansson as the volatile temptress. There was a time when Allen?s name showed up on Oscar?s Best Original Screenplay lists with the regularity of the Yankees making the playoffs. He won the award only once, for Annie Hall in 1978, but there have been a dozen other nominations. One of them was for Crimes and Misdemeanors (1989), his brilliant study of morality and guilt, and Match Point revisits much of the same thematic ground. The style and the circumstances are very different, but it?s a return to top form from Allen, and deserves to net him his first Oscar writing nomination since Deconstructing Harry in 1998.
There are moments when the directing seems a bit self-conscious, and the references to luck may be laid on a little too freely. But for that portion of the movie-going public that looks to a Woody Allen release as a reliable oasis in the cineplex desert, this is an exhilarating reassurance, layered with an insistent pondering of the role played by luck, as opposed to the divine hand of providence, in the way things work out for us. Match Point is a tremendously unsettling picture. It?s not a net cord, but a clean winner.
© Text 2006 Jonathan Richards - Filmfreak.be